Hundreds enrolled in court-reporting and paralegal training classes at Sage College were left in a lurch when the for-profit school closed on Tuesday — two weeks before the end of the quarter — due to a long-simmering accreditation issue.
College officials said the action resulted from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools losing its authority under a U.S. Department of Education decision last month.
"Effective immediately, it is with great sadness that we announce the closure of Sage College," the Moreno Valley-based company emailed students. "This situation affects every school that was formerly approved by ACICS. It is not Sage College specific in any way."
Other schools accredited by the council managed to stay open, and according to its students, Sage withheld information and in some cases continued to collect federal student loan funds and tuition payments as recently as a few days before closing.
"They told us in October that we had 18 months and that they would take care of us," said Marissa Maginnis, a single mother working toward her court-reporting certification. "We were supposed to have finals next week. A lot of us feel like we've just been scammed."
Maginnis said she has $23,000 in student loans — money she thought was a good investment because court reporters can earn $80,000 a year or more in San Diego. She now hopes to get all or part of her loan forgiven.
Sage College is one of about 250 schools accredited by the council, which was targeted by federal officials for "pervasive noncompliance" with regulations over government-backed loans and grants for students.
Last month, the Department of Education revoked the council's accreditation authority. The nonprofit group sought a restraining order to halt the process, but a federal judge rejected the request.
Most of the other colleges accredited by the council accepted a provisional certification, meaning they could remain in business if they secured an alternate accreditation under stricter operating standards within 18 months.
The notice Maginnis received from Sage College three months ago assured students they had more time and advised them to keep up with their coursework.
"Although we don't know how long the ACICS appeal process will take, the one thing we do know is that if they are denied, all schools will have 18 months to secure approval through another accrediting agency," executive director Lauren Somma told students on Oct. 4.
About 350 students at the San Diego and Moreno Valley campuses of Sage College were affected by the school closure, officials said. About 50 employees also lost their jobs.
The Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools, a nonprofit based in Washington, said in a statement that it has a hearing scheduled Feb. 1 on its request for an injunction against the Department of Education revocation decision.
The council says it wants to regain its government recognition "and recover our historic role as a highly regarded accrediting agency."